Religion in early India, i.e. during the Harappan period involved Gods, ancestor-beings and demons; shamans, priests and kings; animal spirits as well as earth mother. Knowledge of religion has been derived from seals, copper tablets and figurines of metal, terracotta and stone. The seals have also portrayed a highly conventionalized figure of a three faced male god seated in a yogi posture with animals on each side. He has been recognized as the proto-type of historic Siva. If this was correct then Saivism could legitimately claim to be the oldest living religion of India. The religion of Harappa centered mainly around fertility rites and the worship of Mother goddess, which was absent in early vedic literatures.
The institution of religion developed during the vedic period. The word ‘veda’ comes from the Sanskrit word ‘vid’ which means knowledge. The Hindus consider the veda to be the most sacred book and gave them the ‘aparusheya'(meaning not made by man) and ‘nitiya'(meaning eternal) status. It is said that the rishis wrote the vedas under the inspirations of god.
The vedic people worshipped forces of nature and divided them into two classes- benevolent forces and malevolent forces. The benevolent forces were the devas while the asuras were malevolent forces. There were large number of gods under devas which can be subdivided as-
Celesstial gods eg. Varuna(rain god), surya (sun god) etc.
Atmospheric gods eg. indra(lord of the heaven), vayu (god of wind) etc.
Terrestrial gods eg. Prithvi (god of earth), agni (fire god) etc.
Scholars have categorised the gods on the basis of number of hymns dedicated to them. Of the many gods varuna,indra,agni,surya and soma were the most popular. In the vedic religion, personal relations between the vedic aryans and gods can be seen. The religion was not based on magic. Heavy sacrifice was carried out by each householder in which the priest assisted them. Gods and goddess behaved like human beings- they ate,drank, had feelings or emotions. People believed in the existance of heaven and hell and that the world is controlled by yama (the god of death). During the vedic period there were no temples to worship their gods which suggests that idol worship was not present. They sacrificed horses and ram.
The evolution of the caste system, predominance of brahmins in the society,new mode of agriculture which required animal husbandry, large amount of ritualistic sacrifices specially of cows etc. led to the rise of Jainism and Buddhism. These new religions promoted ascetic living, non violence aand equality and so became popular. To counter them and reoccupy their hold in the society, the Hindu thinkers tried to simplify their religion. This led to the creation of puranas which led to the revival of Hinduism.
The new brahmanical religion created fairs and festivals, temples, idol worships, secular palaces etc. This brought people of all classes come together to identify themselves to the religion Hindu. They even made Buddha a reincarnation of vishnu and thus embeded the most popular religion into Hinduism. This made the ideals of Buddhism getting lost in its birth place.
The puranas included 18 religious texts composed between 400BC-400AD. Gods like Shiva,Brahma and Vishnu became popular. Along with it the shakti cult emerged. Had there not been any puranas, the religion Hinduism would have died out and Buddhism and Jainism would have had strong hold in the subcontinent. And finally the Hindu religion with a lot of confrontation with other religion and culture came to many changes and acquired its present form.
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